MACON, Ga. — Some might think being named Georgia Superintendent of the Year would be the highlight of a person's career.
Going on to win National Superintendent of the Year, though? It's the stuff dreams are made of, and outgoing Bibb Schools Superintendent Curtis Jones did both.
13WMAZ anchor Lori Johnson sat down with Jones as he's preparing to leave Bibb County. If you ask him what he's most proud of, it's not the accolades... it's the lives of leaders he's helped shape.
"I think in 2015 the school district was ready for change. We had some trust issues. We had some challenges with board issues as well. We had students who wanted to learn, but didn't have all the necessary resources," said Jones.
When Jones took the reins of the district seven years ago, he had a monumental task -- to restore trust in the school system and make it better. With his military and education background and a strategic plan, he focused on students, teachers and district leaders, along with the community to improve the schools.
Now, he walks the hallways of Bibb County's schools with pride.
"I will tell you, from 2015 to 2022 it's been a journey, but it's been a good one," said Jones.
When he first became superintendent, the graduation rate was just under 60%. In 2021, the graduation rate grew to just over 80%, but he says that’s just part of the story.
“Three out of four of our students who are Black Americans -- when we compare the graduation rate for Black Americans -- when we compare them to their counterparts in the rest of the state, they are ahead of the state average," said Jones.
He attributes that -- in part -- to improvements in technology and facilities. On his watch, Jones oversaw the opening of six new school buildings, including the most recent at Northeast High School and lots of renovation projects.
Twists and turns have filled the last seven years, none bigger than the pandemic. In a matter of days, teachers and students headed home to teach and learn. No one knew for how long.
Getting everyone connected online took a lot of technical know-how, but keeping students focused and on track took something else.
"It was easy during COVID stay-at-home [to] not get up, turn your camera off, but strength of character says, 'I’m going to do what’s right,' and we had a lot of students who did that,” said Jones.
He says there’s still work to be done, like getting more Bibb County students who are earning college credit in high school into more colleges. It will be left to Dan Sims, the newly appointed superintendent.
Jones passes along these words of wisdom to Sims.
“I think the next superintendent for Bibb County should listen to our community, should be aware that they may tell him that things are well. He needs to take the time to analyze it and develop his own plan for where he wants to go," said Jones.
Even though some have questioned the school board not considering an internal candidate to replace Jones, he says unity is important moving forward.
“Once the decision is made, you get behind them. You do all you can to make them be successful, you know why? Because if not, we all suffer," said Jones.
His last day of work is June 30. Then, he’ll be working with the Georgia School Superintendent Association.
He'll travel and spend time with his family, and the former superintendent even plans on going back to school with photography classes.
You can watch his message to parents below: